What a Biden gov't might mean for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Many in region look forward to change in White House but most don’t expect wholesale reversal of Trump policies.

US President Joe Biden gestures after disembarking from a plane upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 8, 2016 (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
US President Joe Biden gestures after disembarking from a plane upon landing at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 8, 2016
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
The US election is over, and Israelis and Palestinians are on tenterhooks, waiting to find out the incoming president’s policies and whom he will appoint to carry them out.
Outgoing President Donald Trump implemented a radical shift from past administrations’ policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017 and relocated the US Embassy to the city in May 2018, leading the Palestinians to sever ties with his administration.
Dan Gillerman, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, told The Media Line the Biden presidency will not disavow all the decisions taken by Trump, but it will reconnect with the Palestinians.
“While the Trump Administration sort of bypassed the Palestinians and to a great extent maybe even isolated them, I think the Biden Administration will bring them back to the fold, to the negotiating table, and try to solve the Palestinian-Israeli issue, with the involvement of the moderate Arab states,” he says.
“What will be the distinction from the Trump Administration is that they will attack the Palestinian issue in a much thorough and more effective way. They will not allow the Palestinians to be left behind,” Gillerman says.
Palestinians had been hoping for a Biden win, as they believe Trump’s policies were biased against them.
Ahmed Rafiq Awad, president of the Jerusalem Center for Future Studies at Al-Quds University, told The Media Line the Democrat’s win brings renewed hope for Palestinians.
“Biden’s policy will be characterized by balance to some extent, moderation, bypassing the so-called deal of the century, bypassing imposing solutions, trying to bring the Palestinians back to the table, and encouraging negotiations on the basis of international law and legitimacy,” he says.
Abdul Sattar Kassem, a former political science professor at An-Najah University in the West Bank, told The Media Line it does not matter who occupies the White House. “Our experiences with successive US administrations are quite clear. Every new president who comes will be more supportive of Israel and have greater disregard for Palestinian rights than his predecessors.”
The Palestinians also accuse the current White House team on the Middle East of not having the experience needed to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who had no previous diplomatic experience, leads the White House Middle East peace process team.
“Trump and his team have absolutely adopted the Israeli vision,” says Awad, who argues that the Biden Administration will include officials who respect international law and signed agreements, “in contrast” to the outgoing administration.
“Biden is an old-style politician and comes from a traditional political school, and he has a long history in politics. This will be reflected in his appointments, as he will employ those with experience and will not rely on personalities who act according to their ideologies and personal whims,” he says.
Gillerman says the president-elect, in an attempt to revive the stalled peace talks, may turn to veteran diplomats, and that he will recruit ones with extensive experience of the conflict who worked for previous administrations.
“The big question is will President Biden pick someone who has been involved with the Israeli-Palestinian issue for a long time, someone like Martin Indyk or Dennis Ross? Or will he pick someone who is more internationalist?”
But regardless of whom the president-elect chooses as his secretary of state or for his Middle East team, Gillerman says they will carry out his agenda.
“I think whoever is the next secretary of state will defer to the president’s agenda on international relations and policy, and that includes the Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli issue.”
One frontrunner for the top US diplomatic job is Susan Rice, who had been under consideration to be Biden’s vice-presidential running mate. Gillerman says she has the credentials to succeed.
“Susan Rice is a very deserving and worthy and able candidate, and did a very good job as national security adviser and as ambassador to the UN,” he says. “I consider Rice a hawk if you compare her with [John] Kerry, the former secretary of state. But names do not matter because in the end, it is the president’s agenda that determines the policy.”
According to insiders, former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro may be Biden’s choice for his envoy to the Middle East.
“He may also join the national security team. These are very experienced people who know the issue, and I think it would be very wise of the [incoming] president to bring them back,” Gillerman continues.
Says Kassem, “We do not expect Biden and his new secretary of state, whoever he is, to reverse any of Trump’s decisions on the issue, such as returning the US Embassy to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem.
“We do not expect him to stand against the settlements. Even though he talks about a two-state solution, there is no longer a possibility for a two-state solution,” Kassem says.
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